Technology Enabling New and Better Satellite Services

by

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Increasingly capable satellites are enabling companies to offer new commercial communications and imagery services, according to a panel of experts speaking April 1 at the National Space Symposium here.

Satellite imagery provider GeoEye of Dulles, Va., for example, is working with ITT Space Systems Division of Rochester, N.Y., to develop the camera for the planned GeoEye-2 satellite that could take pictures of the Earth’s surface with 25-centimeter resolution as early as 2012, said William Schuster, GeoEye’s chief operating officer. GeoEye’s GeoEye-1 satellite, launched last year, offers 50-centimeter resolution.

“The technology is here. The technology is being built and readied for orbit,” Schuster said. “The question is will that be reserved for government use only or will we be able to display that commercially. There probably will be a great deal of debate.”

Improved technology also is enabling satellites to handle far more data than previously was the case, said David Hershberg, chief executive of Globecomm Systems, a satellite communications integrator based in Hauppauge, N.Y. As a result, satellites can offer consumers an increasingly affordable option for broadband communications.

“We can get the cost of providing broadband to any location on the globe very competitive with fiber,” Hershberg said. Those advances will help satellite broadband providers compete for some of the $7.2 billion provided in the recently passed economic stimulus package to extend broadband services to rural communities.

Unfortunately, satellite services may not be the favored approach to providing broadband at a time of high unemployment because “you don’t have to dig 50 miles of ditches,” Hershberg said. “But we can provide [broadband] service anywhere at a very competitive price.”

In the future, satellite communications also will play an important role in the development of on-demand media entertainment, Hershberg said. People will have access to thousands of television programs, movies and sporting events that not only will be available at any time but also will allow viewers to interact with their equipment. During a sporting event, for example, viewers would be able to zoom in on an individual player, view statistics, or call up events from an archive, Hershberg said.

Satellites also will help spur the development of a new type of personal digital assistant, according to Lon Levin, cofounder of XM Satellite Radio and president of SkySevenVentures, an investment and consulting firm. The device, which he calls Personal Situational Awareness, will show a person his or her location, offer weather information and geospatial imagery. “We are going toward a world where we will each have a device that tells you where you are, where your friends are, your children, your spouse,” he said. Any privacy concerns can be addressed by simply turning the devices off, he added.

Many of the new satellite applications will be made possible by advanced composite materials and technology that will reduce the weight of spacecraft, offer additional power and increase antenna apertures, said Michael Tupper, executive vice president of Composite Technology Development of Lafayette, Colo.

“Technology is allowing us to triple or quadruple the size of the aperture on satellites with minimal cost impact,” he said. “People working on future satellites should be thinking about what they could do with higher capabilities. New technologies and materials being developed by small businesses can really help drive this.”